Inside Berlin’s newest addition to the UNESCO-listed Museum Island

After 20 years in the works, the James Simon Gallery, which pays homage to the Jewish patron of Berlin museums, is getting ready to launch in the capital this weekend.

Inside Berlin's newest addition to the UNESCO-listed Museum Island
A view of Berlin's James Simon Gallery, set to open to the public soon. Photo: DPA

Set to open its doors to the public on Saturday, July 13th, Berlin’s James Simon Gallery will act as a visitor centre to the UNESCO World Heritage Site and the collections housed within its five museums – the Bode, the Altes, the Neues and the Pergamon Museums as well as the Alte Nationalgalerie.

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Designed by star architect Sir David Chipperfield, the James Simon Gallery has been in the works for around 20 years. The building features an auditorium that can sit 300 people, special exhibition spaces, a permanent exhibition and media installations, a gift shop, a café and restaurant, various services like ticket counters and cloakrooms, and a terrace along the Kuperfgraben canal.

Described as a “linking infrastructure” by Chipperfield, the building will also provide the only entrance to the Pergamon Museum until renovations are complete there and offer a second entrance to the Neues Museum.

 “It was not clear at the beginning what this building should be,” Chipperfield said on Wednesday. “It is clearly not another museum. It is an infrastructural building on one hand.

“It provides lots of facilities. But it is also a linking infrastructure. It connects the buildings together and provides orientation to the whole idea of Museum Island.” 

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Sir David Chipperfield outside the museum. Photo: DPA

The modern new building acts as a continuation of Museum Island structures. This is most clearly seen in the colonnade outside. The 19th-century colonnade, on which bullet scars from World War II are still clearly visible, originally ended at the Neues Museum. Chipperfield’s design has slimmer, sharper columns that meet the original ones, creating an interesting juxtaposition between history and the present.

The group of museums in the heart of Berlin attracts 2.5 million visitors a year.

Tributes paid to Jewish artists and patrons

The opening of the James Simon Gallery was described by museum officials in Berlin Wednesday as both a historical moment and important homage to one of the most important benefactors of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Berlin State Museums).

James Simon, a Jewish businessman, philanthropist and art collector, donated approximately 10,000 items to Berlin Museums. One of his most famous donations is the Neferti bust. Sometimes dubbed Berlin’s Mona Lisa, the Nefertiti bust is housed in the Neues Museum. Simon also contributed funds that led to key excavations in the Middle East, such as that of the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, which is on display in the Pergamon Museum. 

READ ALSO: Berlin inaugurates new Museum Island addition

Represented by Simon, the new visitor centre also pays tribute to other Jewish patrons and important members of Berlin society whose influence the Nazis tried to erase. “We want to do something to prevent us forgetting,” Hermann Parzinger, the president of the Preußicher Kulturbesitz, which oversees the city's museums, told reporters on Wednesday. 

Inside the gallery on Museum Island. Photo: DPA

One example of such a tribute is sculptor August Gaul’s “Reclining Lion” on display in the foyer. The statue was commissioned and owned by Jewish newspaper publisher and patron of the arts Rudolf Mosse in the early twentieth century. The statue survived World War II, stood for some time in the present Alte Nationalgalerie, and was restituted to the Lachmann-Mosse family in 2015 and reacquired by the Staatliche zu Museen in 2016.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is slated to officially open the building on Friday. On Saturday, the public will be able to walk through its doors and take part in a full-day of celebration and events.

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REVEALED: The most commonly asked questions about Germans and Germany

Ever wondered what the world is asking about Germany and the Germans? We looked at Google’s most searched results to find out – and help clear some of these queries up.

Hasan Salihamidzic, the sports director of FC Bayern, arrives with his wife at Oktoberfest in full traditional dress. Photo: picture alliance/dpa |

According to popular searches, Germany is the go-to place for good coffee and bread (although only if you like the hard kind) and the place to avoid if what you’re looking for is good food, good internet connection and low taxes. Of course, this is subjective; some people will travel long stretches to get a fresh, hot pretzel or a juicy Bratwurst, while others will take a hard pass.

When it comes to the question on the bad Internet – there is some truth to this. German is known for being behind other rich nations when it comes to connectivity. And from personal experience, the internet connection can seem a little medieval. The incoming German coalition government has, however, vowed to improve internet connectivity as part of their plans to modernise the country.

There are also frequent questions on learning the German language, and people pointing out that it is hard and complicated. This is probably due to the long compound words and its extensive grammar rules, however, as both English and German are Germanic languages with similar words in common, it’s not impossible to learn as an English-speaker.

Here’s a look at some of those questions…

Why is German called Deutsch? Whereas ‘German’ comes from the Latin, ‘Deutsch’ instead derives itself from the Indo-European root “þeudō”, meaning “people”. This slowly became “Deutsch” as we know it today. It can be a bit confusing to English-speakers, who are right to think it sounds a little more like “Dutch”, however the two languages do have the same roots which may explain it.

And why is Germany so boring? Again, probably a generalisation, especially given that Germany has a landmass of over 350,000 km² with areas ranging from high rise, industrial cities to traditional old town villages and even mountain ranges, so you’re sure to find a place that doesn’t bore you to tears.

Perhaps it is a question that comes from the stereotype that Germans are obsessed with strict about rules, organised and analytical. Or that they have no sense of humour – all of these things being not the most exciting traits. 

Either way, from my experience I can confirm that, even though there is truth to German society enjoying order and rules, the vast majority of people are not boring, and I’m sure if you come to Germany you’ll meet many interesting, funny and exciting people. 

READ ALSO: 12 mistakes foreigners make when moving to Germany

When it comes to the German weather, most people assume a cold and cloudy climate, however this isn’t entirely true. While the autumn and winter, especially in the north, comes with grey skies and sub-zero temperatures, Germany can have some beautiful summers, with temperatures frequently rising above 30C in some places.

Unsurprisingly, the power and wealth of the German nation is mentioned – Germany is the largest economy in Europe after all, with a GDP of 3.8 trillion dollars. This could be due to strong industry sectors in the country, including vehicle constructions (I was a little surprised to find no questions posed on German cars), chemical and electrical industry and engineering. There are also many strong economic cities in Germany, most notably Munich, Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg.

READ ALSO: Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany

Smart and tall?

Why are Germans so tall? They are indeed taller than many other nations, with the average German measuring a good 172.87cm (or 5 feet 8.06 inches), however this may be a question better posed to the Dutch, who make up the tallest people in the world.

Why are Germans so smart? While this is again a generalisation – as individuals have different levels of intelligence in all countries – this question may stem from Germany’s free higher education system or their seemingly efficient work ethic. Plus there does seem to be some scientific research behind this question, with a study done in 2006 finding that Germans had the highest IQ in Europe.

So, while many of the questions posed about Germany and Germans on Google stem from stereotypes, we can confirm that some aren’t entirely made up. If you’re looking to debunk some frequently asked questions about France and the French, check out this article by our sister site HERE.